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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                         3Q0
clouds that looked like soap-suds. The sky was deserted;
only on the horizon small dots could be seen against the
background of ^ distant clouds—they were the Junkers
scattering in different directions. Alexei looked at his
watch and was amazed. It had seemed to him that the
fight had lasted at least half an hour and that his fuel
must be running low; but the watch showed that it had
lasted only three and a half minutes.
"Alive?" he asked, glancing at his follower who had
"crawled over" and was now flying parallel with him.
Amidst ^ the jumble of pounds in his ear-phones he
heard a distant, exultant voice:
"Alive___Down-----Look down___"
Down below, in a battered, mutilated, hilly valley,
fuel tanks were burning in several places, and clouds of
dense smoke were rising in columns in the still air. But
Alexei did not look at these burning remains of enemy
planes. His eyes were glued upon the green-grey beetles
that were scurrying widely across the fields. They had
crept up to the enemy's positions along two hollows and
those in front were already crossing the trenches.
Spouting red sparks from their trunks, they crawled
through the enemy's lines and crept on farther and
farther, although shots still flashed in their rear and the
smoke from the German guns was visible.
Meresyev realised what these hundreds of beetles in
the depths of the enemy's shattered positions meant.
He was witnessing what the Soviet people, and the
people of all freedom-loving countries, read about in the
newspapers next day with joy and exultation. On one of
the sectors of the Kursk Salient, the army, after a terrific
artillery preparation which lasted for two hours, pierced
the enemy's defences, entered the breach and cleared the
road for the Soviet forces that had passed to the
Of the nine machines in Captain Cheslov's squadron
two failed to return to their base. Nine Junkers were shot
down. Nine to two was certainly a good score when
counting machines. But the loss of two comrades marred
the joy of victory. On alighting from their machines the
airmen did not exult or shout and gesticulate in ardent
discussion of the battle, and live over again the dangers